Critical Listening Part 1

The Human Ear
                                       (The Jury Expert 2015)
Critical listening, the ability to hear musically and sonically – technically, is an essential attribute of a music producer. “Listening skills need to be developed … to function in their job. …”. Producers need to be “actively engaged in seeking out information with each passing sound” (Moylan 2007, 89-91). Whilst a novice ear[1] listening to cultural production artifacts[2] could reveal elements, it takes training to reveal subtle production or post-production techniques, equipment or unorthodox use of equipment or instruments that may be used to create unique sonic qualities or textures to differentiate their music[3] (Davie 2015, 43). An aspiring music production practitioner requires guidance and training[4] to introduce them to the subtleties, gained previously by ‘employment’ in a studio[5] with skilled practitioners to observe, imitate and then the opportunity to apply as the situation provided: the importance of ‘training’ in the workplace, “learning and working are interdependent” (Billet 2001, 39; Burgess 2013, 38). The “apprenticeship approach – modelling, coaching, scaffolding and fading” was used as it was found to be central to effective workplace-training techniques (Billet 2001, 145). Whilst the contemporary DIY music production practitioner now has access to the technology, without access to experienced and skilled technicians within work-place-training environments, their ‘training and development’ is more than likely going to be deficient, with essential skills as critical listening[6] lacking (Hague 2010; Théberge 1997, 19; Holmes 2012, 6; Davie 2012, 44).

 Self-learning: the ‘discipline’ required to be a contemporary music practitioner

Effective DIY learning requires the discipline of motivation and proactivity to seek out information and learning opportunities. With the unlikelihood of finding an existing studio to receive workplace-training, the contemporary DIY music production practitioner needs to be resourceful in their quest to learn the art and craft of production, and become “aware of the questions and problems that all producers face” (Burgess 2013, 35). There is an abundance of resources[7] today aimed at the aspiring music production practitioner, aligned to effective self-learning methods and tools (Billet 2001, 71). Professional level videos such as on (2015) and Pensado’s Place (2015) provide industry experienced and skilled technicians, with the benefit of this resource being it can be replayed infinite times. In addition to these reputable industry video resources, there are numerous text-based resources such as Sound on Sound (2015) and the Australian-based Audio Technology magazine (2015) that can be sourced online for professional industry relevant information as opportunities for aspiring music practitioners to learn. Burgess (2013, 35) encourages the practitioner to “learn as much as you can by imitation from the most experienced people who are available to you”. However, lacking in contemporary practice is having a more experienced and skilled technician in a position to observe one’s practice to provide appropriate feedback, further explanation and retraining as required. Networks and communities can provide such an opportunity, with experienced and skills technicians available to provide mentoring and training opportunities.
The other opportunity provided in the current era that was lacking in the 1960’s and early 1970’s were vocational and tertiary courses such as the likes of the Australian-based SAE {originally known as the School of Audio Engineering} (2015) and JMC Academy (2015) Institutes. SAE, regarded as the first commercial vocational course of its kind in the world, commenced in Sydney in 1976 (SAE 2015). In order to teach subject content, professional studio processes had to be analysed and industry-valid curriculum developed in order to provide to potential consumers and prosumers the justification of making the tuition fee investment. Burgess confirms their relevance in the discipline: “combined with a proactive DIY approach, a good school program can fill in knowledge gaps and instill a deeper understanding of the fundamentals while increasing awareness of best practices’ (Burgess, 2013, 35).
With the demise of the opportunities for on-the-job-training as with the large format studio model the audio industry used to be known for, many opportunities have resulted in the changing landscape of the contemporary audio industry. Effective DIY learning does require motivation and proactivity to seek out information and learning opportunities. However, the development of a skill such as Critical Listening is something that can be achieved without necessarily leaving one’s home by taking advantage of the internet and the many communication mediums and learning resources that are provided for in this era.
[1] A novice ear listening to cultural production artifacts[2] could reveal elements such as: the genre, aesthetic qualities, general instrumentation, musical structure, lyric or musical message, and spatial placement.
[2] Examples of cultural production artifacts in the field of music production are: albums, CDs and mp3s
[3] Many believe the unique range of sonic qualities or textures are the elements that influence and motivate music producers to create.
[4] Advice traditionally came from work-place training , via a trainer, adviser or ‘mentor’
[5] Employment could be a paid or unpaid role, usually very menial such as coffee boy or cleaner
[6] I developed my critical listening skill within industry, via workplace-training. Today, as part of my ongoing professional development process, I routinely reserve time for critical listening of a range of cultural production artifacts, across genres. Of particular interest to me are: innovative structures, techniques or equipment other practitioners may be employing in their production or post-production process, to realise unique musical or sonic qualities or textures.
[7] Examples of resources that exist in the market place to support contemporary DIY music producers with knowledge and influence are: 1) academic texts, academic journals, functional textbooks, industry associations, industry conferences, industry trade magazines, product and service providers, manufacturers and distributors, specialist professionals such technicians and engineers, forums, blogs and websites; courses, and; cultural production artifacts such as albums, CDs and mp3s.
This blog series is planned to continue with Critical Listening Part 2a.
Audio Technology Magazine. 2015. Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Billett, Stephen. 2001. Learning in the workplace: strategies for effective practice. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.
Burgess, Richard James. 2013. The art of music production: the theory and practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Davie, Mark. 2015. DIY: don’t be a tool. In Audio Technology 2015 (106): 98.
Davie, Mark. 2012. The diy revolution. In Audio Technology (91): 98.
Hague, Graeme. 2010. Recording and production: make and record music now. In Guerilla Guide (29): 131. Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Holmes, Thom. 2012. Electronic and experimental music: technology, music, and culture. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.
JMC Academy. 2015.  Accessed 2nd February, 2015 2015.  Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Moylan, William. 2007. The art of recording: the creative resources of music production and audio. Boston: Focal Press.
Pensado’s Place. 2015. Accessed 2nd February, 2015
SAE. 2015. SAE Institute. Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Sound on Sound. 2015. Accessed 2nd February, 2015
Théberge, Paul. 1997. Any sound you can make: making music/consuming technology. Hanover: University Press of New England.
The Jury Expert. 2015. Man listening image courtesy of: The Jury Expert Accessed 2nd February, 2015
– ©David L Page 05/02/2015
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.



David L Page

View posts by David L Page
With over 20 years experience in the arts & post-compulsory education, David has lived, studied and worked Internationally including Japan, India, Fiji, the US and NZ. David has extensive interests as per the extensive blogs hosted on his site (see below). Additionally, David has published in both lay texts and academic (peer-review) publications.

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